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Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946-1958

Elizabeth Schmidt

Publication Year: 2007

In September 1958, Guinea claimed its independence, rejecting a constitution that would have relegated it to junior partnership in the French Community. In all the French empire, Guinea was the only territory to vote “No.” Orchestrating the “No” vote was the Guinean branch of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), an alliance of political parties with affiliates in French West and Equatorial Africa and the United Nations trusts of Togo and Cameroon. Although Guinea’s stance vis-à-vis the 1958 constitution has been recognized as unique, until now the historical roots of this phenomenon have not been adequately explained.
Clearly written and free of jargon, Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea argues that Guinea’s vote for independence was the culmination of a decade-long struggle between local militants and political leaders for control of the political agenda. Since 1950, when RDA representatives in the French parliament severed their ties to the French Communist Party, conservative elements had dominated the RDA. In Guinea, local cadres had opposed the break. Victimized by the administration and sidelined by their own leaders, they quietly rebuilt the party from the base. Leftist militants, their voices muted throughout most of the decade, gained preeminence in 1958, when trade unionists, students, the party’s women’s and youth wings, and other grassroots actors pushed the Guinean RDA to endorse a “No” vote. Thus, Guinea’s rejection of the proposed constitution in favor of immediate independence was not an isolated aberration. Rather, it was the outcome of years of political mobilization by activists who, despite Cold War repression, ultimately pushed the Guinean RDA to the left.
The significance of this highly original book, based on previously unexamined archival records and oral interviews with grassroots activists, extends far beyond its primary subject. In illuminating the Guinean case, Elizabeth Schmidt helps us understand the dynamics of decolonization and its legacy for postindependence nation-building in many parts of the developing world.
Examining Guinean history from the bottom up, Schmidt considers local politics within the larger context of the Cold War, making her book suitable for courses in African history and politics, diplomatic history, and Cold War history.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Cover Art

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p. vii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

French Colonial Officials (1944–59)

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pp. xiii-xiv


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-7

In September 1958, the French territory of Guinea claimed its independence. In a defiant “No” to France, the Guinean people, through a popular referendum, decisively rejected a constitution that would have relegated their country to junior partnership in a new French Community. ...

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One: Reformed Imperialism and the Onset of the Cold War, 1945–50

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pp. 8-44

From the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to its defeat by Germany in 1940, France had taken its place among the world’s great powers. When World War II ended, however, France’s economy was in a shambles, its transportation system had been destroyed, and coal and food were in short supply. The country had been defeated, ...

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Two: The Break with the PCF and Dissension within the Ranks, 1950–53

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pp. 45-67

As the Cold War escalated in France and abroad, government repression against the RDA intensified. This persecution resulted in two contradictory conclusions by party members. On the one hand, the simultaneous crackdown on French communists and African RDA members seemed to reinforce their common interests ...

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Three: The Fraudulent Elections of 1954 and the Resurgence of the RDA, 1954–55

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pp. 68-96

Intense state repression in the early 1950s decimated the Guinean RDA’s local structures. The crackdown on political organizing forced the party to shift tactics, driving some activists from overt political work to trade union activity. Taking advantage of the skills, organization, and momentum of the postwar labor unions, ...

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Four: The RDA’s Rise to Power and Local Self-Government, 1956–57

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pp. 97-124

For the French government, unrest in Guinea during 1954–55 was part of a larger, more troubling issue. By the mid-1950s, the French empire was under attack on several fronts, most notably in Indochina and North Africa. In Indochina, the Viet Minh, a broad-based national liberation movement led by the communist revolutionary ...

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Five: The Renaissance of the Left: From Autonomy to Independence, 1956–58

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pp. 125-156

With the formation of the loi-cadre government in May 1957, the old guard of the Guinean RDA rapidly consolidated its power. Although territorial leaders were criticized by the Left for their increasingly accommodationist stance, the RDA government did implement reforms that both benefitted its popular base and diminished ...

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Six: Defiance and Retribution: The Referendum and Its Aftermath, 1958–60

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pp. 157-179

In 1958, in another attempt to save the French empire, the de Gaulle government proposed a new constitution that would provide the basis for the Fifth Republic. French citizens throughout the empire were to vote for or against the constitution in a referendum on September 28. In the weeks and months prior ...

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Conclusion and Postscript

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pp. 180-186

For the three centuries preceding World War II, France had assumed its position among the world’s great powers. At the war’s end, however, France, wrecked and humiliated, was a mere shadow of its former self. Only its empire, unrivaled by none but Britain’s, could salvage its great power status. ...

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pp. 187-190

The origin of this book lies in the word “No”—Guinea’s “No” to the 1958 French constitution and my editor’s “No” to a 965-page manuscript. In the empire-wide referendum of September 1958, Guinea alone rejected the constitution and claimed immediate independence instead. Intrigued by Guinea’s unique stance ...


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pp. 191-282


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pp. 283-292


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pp. 293-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780821442562
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821417645

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 646761745
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946-1958

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Subject Headings

  • Decolonization -- Guinea.
  • Guinea -- History -- Autonomy and independence movements.
  • Rassemblement démocratique africain.
  • Guinea -- Politics and government.
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